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The Young Black Stallion Reviews

A large-format prequel based on a novel started by Walter Farley and finished by his son, Steven, this short feature tells the early story of the spirited and fleet-footed Arabian horse featured in Farley's classic The Black Stallion. North Africa, 1945: A silver mare finds a desert cave and gives birth to a coal-black foal, who's left to fend for himself after she's captured by desert horsemen. Sometime later, adolescent Neera (Biana G. Tamimi) is riding with a camel caravan, sent by her family to wait out the end of the war someplace safer than their vast farm compound. Soldiers attack the caravan and Neera flees, only to be unseated when her camel stumbles. She wakes up alone in the dunes, surrounded by shifting sands, and strikes out toward home. At a rocky oasis, Neera crosses paths with the black horse, now grown. With the horse's help, Neera makes her way home, only to have her companion gallop back into the desert at the sound of a truck engine. Neera's homecoming is melancholy: The fields are burned, the compound is in ruins and her grandfather (Richard Romanus) is a broken man. Once a renowned breeder and trainer of racehorses, he was forced to sell the family's herd rather than let them starve; all but two now belong to neighbors. The exceptions are an aging cart horse and the family's favorite silver mare, Gina, whom he set loose in the desert. Though it's unseemly for a young girl to do so, Neera concocts a plan to find her black horse and enter him in an annual race with a prize of a string of high-quality mares that would allow her grandfather to rebuild the family business. The shadow of THE BLACK STALLION (1979), a top-notch family film and one of the best pictures ever made about the relationship between horses and children, hangs heavily over this abbreviated tale, which features spectacular locations, a handsomely mounted race and many highly photogenic horses whose natural charisa eclipses that of the human cast. Young Tamimi is a terrific rider but a lackluster screen presence, and the film's brevity ensures that her trials have a perfunctory quality that keeps them from being truly compelling. Though a foregone conclusion by the story's nature, her victory comes so easily that it rings hollow — even young viewers are likely wonder what happened to the rest of the film.